The Point of Power

The Point of Power isn’t talked about in photography as much as more common concepts such as the rule of thirds. I did a web search and I couldn’t find any information on it. Perhaps this is one of those secrets that is kept hush hush. Much like projection in the Renaissance, where we were all lead to believe that artists suddenly learnt to see and draw better, where in fact they were just tracing off projections with concave mirrors. Many argue that the history of art is really the history of optics. I was so disappointed when I found this out, as I always thought that when I traced my photographs when painting or drawing, I was a cheat. All those years of guilt were unfounded.

Design is another industry and in the magazine trade the lower right hand corner is considered the ‘anchor’.  This is the premium spot as it is the last spot someone looks at before leaving the page.

In poster design this spot usually has the most important point, either visually or through words.

It is the last spot you look at on a page before you leave. This is illustrated in what is called the Gutenberg Diagram. It is considered to work in pages with lots of text. You can read more about it here.

(It is interesting how many great photographers come from other backgrounds, like design, architecture, and advertising.)

In art, and in particular photography, this same spot has a particular significance. I personally find that it works well with areas of large negative space.

A really beautiful composition could work like this. Your eye start off in the upper left, and wanders towards the right, just like reading. As we move across the photograph, we are attracted to something down in the lower right quadrant and we wander down in a spiral. The subject is so beautiful, our eye comes to rest on it, and stays on it. Our eye goes back out into the negative space, it always returns to the point of power, and rests there until we finally leave the photograph.

Whenever I start explaining the significance of the point of power the conversation always inevitably comes around to cultural bias.   I am not sure about this, and this needs further research and thought.

Basically we are taught to read from left to right, top to bottom.   

Hence the lower right corner is the terminal area of the page. While the upper left is known as the primary optical area.

Lets get more specific.

The point of power in a photograph isn’t the corner. It is in from the corner a comfortable distance. Lets say roughly a third up and a third from the right. A quarter up and a quarter from the right would be considered in the point of power.

If we were to subscribe to the rule of thirds, there would be four points of power in a photograph. But once we consider how we are taught to read and look we bias towards the lower right hand one as the most important.

This is one of those secrets, that once you know it, you will see it everywhere. Over use it and your work will become boring.

Here are some examples of mine. Some clearly use the point of power, while others clearly avoid it. Some are very subtle hints towards it.

Now it’s your turn. At least two photographs, using the point of power. In this resolved and completed photograph make sure the point of power is congruent with the main subject. I would recommend using lots of negative space to give the eye room to get to the point of power.

Lastly a photograph to show yourself you can break this rule. This photograph is to use one main subject, but to place it specifically outside the quadrant of the point of power. Like the rock in the sand in my example above. Works well, IMHO, without using the point of power.